For the woman he loved, he became a paratrooper in the vaunted 82nd Airborne Division and eventually a U.S. citizen. With his enlistment nearly up, 6-foot, 5-inch, 230-pound Army Spc. Wenderson Jangada is ready to return to his home country of Brazil to reclaim the title of heavyweight boxing champion.
Jangada deployed to Iraq’s Anbar province in August as an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, a unit whose battle campaign streamers from World War II read like a Stephen Spielberg movie script: Sicily, Anzio, Normandy, and the Ardennes.
It is a fitting unit for a former boxing champion who has fought and trained with boxers from Argentina, Russia, and most of Europe.
“I learn from them all -- some good, some bad. The Russians just want to kill you,” he said with a laugh.
Though Jangada’s enlistment expires in early 2010, he expects to be extended through late autumn, allowing him to complete the current deployment.
“I will take a couple months off, and then I will train to fight again,” said the 2001/2002 transcontinental heavyweight champ. “Perhaps I will take my titles back.”
At 34 in the sport of boxing, Jangada is a mature practitioner, though he has friends who have boxed professionally into their 40s. “If the boxing doesn’t work out, I will open a gym with my friend Daniel Silva,” he said. Jangada is considering Chicago, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, Ind., as possible locations.
“I am a better trainer than a boxer,” he said. “Training a boxer is a puzzle. It’s like building a house. Everyone starts too fast. I started too fast, but I learned.”
Jangada began his career as a muay Thai fighter in the same Brazilian gym that spawned mixed martial-arts greats Wanderlei and Anderson Silva. But that’s not for him, Jangada said.
“Boxing is a noble art. It’s a classic. Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali are classics. Besides, I have heavy hands,” he said, referring to his 38 knockouts.
Recently promoted from private first class to specialist, Jangada is stationed here, 10 miles from the Syrian border, where paratroopers are partnered with Iraqi border enforcement troops.
In his time off, Jangada coaches his battle buddies in the art of boxing. “They have heart here in the Army, much more than civilians,” he said.
Army 1st Lt. Christopher Hollingsworth, Jangada’s platoon leader from Ennis, Texas, takes advantage of Jangada’s boxing mentorship whenever he can. The former Special Forces operator and medic from 3rd Special Forces Group said he would be stupid not to take advantage of such world-class talent.
“The training he did with such a wide range of top boxers makes him a great instructor,” Hollingsworth said. “We are constantly trying to pick his brain.”
Noting the great progress Iraqi security forces have made in Anbar province, Jangada said the deployment is quieter than he had expected.
“Infantry is like boxing. We are fighters. We are the war dogs. We expected to find more action, but this is not the case. But then, I am glad to see nobody hurt,” he said.
His wife, Susan, a former professional volleyball player, moved back to Indiana to be near family until her husband returns from Iraq.
On the night of Oct. 24, Jangada was manning a guard tower. It was dark and cold and the pouring rain had turned the “moondust” on the base into deep, sticky gumbo. A soldier brought him a note from the Red Cross. The details: Fergeson Jangada, born Oct. 24 in Bluffington, Ind., 8 pounds, 12.3 ounces, 21 inches, mother and baby doing fine.
Susan likes the Army for the stability and health benefits, said Jangada, who is still considering re-enlistment.
“His top end is unlimited,” Hollingsworth said. “If he chooses to stay in the Army, he can do whatever he wants.” In the meantime, he has eight months left in the deployment to be the best paratrooper he can be, he said.
“Sometimes we love it; sometimes we hate it, but we can never forget it,” Jangada said. “No matter what I do when I get out, serving in the 82nd Airborne Division is something I’m going to bring with me forever.”
(Army Spc. Michael J. MacLeod serves in the Multinational Force West public affairs office.)